Ask The Vet: Caring For Big Dogs (Part 2)

Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM from the Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Ohio spoke with me about some of the health issues that face big and giant dog breeds. We discussed how to properly care for your giant breed dog from puppyhood through adulthood.

In our first Ask The Vet article, Dr. Osborne shared tips for caring for a large or giant breed puppy to give them the best start in life. In this article, Caring For Big Dogs in our Ask The Vet series, we cover ways to keep your big dog healthy as she ages.

There are many ills that can befall a beloved pet; some can be avoided, some are a function of aging. Even an aging pet, Dr. Osborne says, can enjoy a high quality of life and a high level of activity as long as the pet parent keeps her on a healthy path throughout her life. If you adopt or rescue an older large breed dog and your veterinarian discovers the dog has weight issues or hip or joint pain you can still provide a high quality of life and get her back on the path toward good health.

Here are items to consider if you’re the pet parent of a big dog or are considering becoming one. Some of these health issues can plague dogs of any size, but are particularly problematic in the larger breeds whose joints are under more stress merely because of their size.

carolmicroWeight issues can lead to arthritis and joint pain
Large and giant breed dogs can become arthritic because of overfeeding. When the bones and joints grow too fast the joints simply can’t bear the weight and then the dog starts down the path of bone, joint, hip and elbow disorders. “You can look at the knee joints in the front legs and see prominence in the joint and almost tell it’s going to give her pain in the future,” Dr. Osborne said.

What should a pet parent look at, or think about, before becoming a large breed dog owner?
“Look into the hereditary issues of the breed you’re considering. Talk with the breeder to see if genetic testing has been done,” she said. “Look for a pet that is OFA certified – this isn’t a guarantee that nothing will go wrong because the parents could be healthy and the pup will develop a hip or joint or elbow issue, but it is a starting point.”

The lifespan of a large breed dog
“Large breed dogs have a much shorter life span,” she explained. “They are considered senior citizens by the age of five. Small breeds are seniors when they are seven or eight-years-old. If we want our pets to enjoy the longest and healthiest lives possible we need to raise them right from the moment they come into our lives.”

What about spaying and neutering?
There are some new schools of thought and studies, she said, that indicate it might be best to wait to spay and neuter the big breeds until they are closer to one-year-old. “Waiting until they are two-years-old might be better, but most shelters and pet parents spay at six to eight months of age.” The reason for waiting is that between birth and when the dog turns one- or two-years-old their growth plates are still forming and if they’re neutered too early, the growth plates may not close properly. That can lead to joint issues later in life. “If you wait you may see a reduction in hip dysplasia, behavioral disorders and lymphoma,” she said.

What about vaccinations?
“Over-vaccination is not anyone’s best friend,” she said. “We all need a certain level of immunity, but you’re not making your dog healthier by over-vaccinating.” She said you should ask your veterinarian for a titer test for rabies, distemper and parvo to see if your dog still carries antibodies; if that’s the case he may not need a vaccination right then. “Look for a veterinarian that offers titers. Look for a vet that offers three-year vaccinations that are also mercury-free and non-attenuated.”

Tips for helping an older, arthritic dog
“Make sure your dog is lean. Help her lose weight if you need to.” Helping your dog safely shed pound may mean you don’t have to take it in for alternative care measures such as chiropractic or acupuncture.

Ask your veterinarian to prescribe natural supplements to address joint pain and arthritis. “Over the counter glucosamine and chondroitin do a wonderful job of promoting pain-free mobility in large breed dogs,” she said.

How can you tell if your dog is overweight?
A lean, healthy dog will have a definite “shape” Dr. Osborne said. “Stand behind your dog and run your hand along side her rib cage. You should be able to see and feel each rib. Your dog should also have a definite ‘waist.’” If you can’t see and feel the ribs and she doesn’t have a waist, it’s time to cut back on food and treats. “The bones can only support so much before health issues arise.”

Exercise is ideal
“Take your dog on 20 to 40 minute walks a couple of times a day,” she said. “Not exercising or using an arthritic limb results in a 33% increase of a permanent disability.” Thinking that your dog needs to be on “bed rest” is hurting, not helping, she said.

“Walking an arthritic dog means you need to walk him according to his level of fitness and ability. Your dog should be walking ahead of you, not lagging behind,” she explained. “Keep to a slow, consistent pace but turn around when you see him start to lag behind.”

If your pet hasn’t been exercised recently you need to work up to longer walks. Start out short and slow and as her endurance increases so too can the pace and length of the walk. “Pay attention to your dog. If he starts to lag that means ‘hey, this is fun, but I’m getting tired so let’s go home. Walk them as their body dictates.”

Other concerns
“Keep the hair between the pads of your dog’s toes clipped,” she said. “Also, keep their toenails as short as possible. You want your big dog to have as secure a footing as possible at all times.” Don’t make your dog walk or run on tiles floors if you can avoid id. “Your dog needs to walk with confidence.”

If your dog is struggling with the stairs, install a ramp. If he can’t easily get into or out of the car, use a ramp.

Don’t leave an older, arthritic dog out in the cold.

Listen to your dog
“Your dog talks to you every day… with his attitude, his behavior, appetite and more,” she said. “Veterinarians need to work closely with pet owners to share, educate and inform. We need to work as a team to help eliminate as many health issues in our beloved pets.”

Bottom line
“Treat your dog as you would a four-legged child because that’s what they are,” she said. That means feeding them right, making certain they get exercise and have regular veterinarian check-ups.

Dr. Carol Osborneis an author and world-renowned integrative veterinarian of twenty plus years. A pioneer in anti-aging medicine and longevity research for pets. After graduating from image001the Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Carol completed a prestigious internship at the Columbus Zoo. Shortly afterwards, she launched a very successful private practice and became founder and director of the non-profit organization, the American Pet Institute. Dr. Carol offers traditional veterinary care for dogs and cats with a softer, natural touch. Her approach highlights the importance of nutrition and utilizing holistic avenues in combination with traditional treatments.Dr. Carol has appeared numerous times on Fox & Friends, The Today Show, Good Day L.A., and Discovery’s Animal Planet. She’s also been featured in USA Today, The L.A. Times, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s World, InStyle, and the New York Daily News. Today Dr. Carol is the founder and medical director of the Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.She offersnatural and traditional integrative therapies for dogs and cats.